Russian rights activists defiant after rally crackdown

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Russian activists will keep on staging regular protests to press for freedom of assembly despite a police crackdown on the last one where 168 people were arrested, rights campaigners said Thursday.

"I see no reason to stop these meetings.... we will try and obtain permission to demonstrate," in central Moscow, "and if we don't get it, we'll go ahead all the same," said Ludmila Alexeyeva.

She said it was the ninth straight time that the police had blocked a rally seeking to protect article 31 of the constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of assembly.

The protests take place on the last day of months with 31 days.

On Monday, Russian police broke up the rally, which organisers had said attracted a record crowd of about 2,000.

They arrested 168 people, said Ilya Yashin from the opposition group Solidarnost.

A journalist from news web site had his arm broken in two places while being detained by police, RIA Novosti reported, citing the site's editor, Mikhail Mikhailin.

The harsh police measures came after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting on Saturday that the authorities should not "create impossible conditions for the expression of freedom of speech."

The Moscow authorities regularly refuse permission to hold the monthly rally on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad in central Moscow, saying the venue is being used for other events.

The police crackdown has been slammed by Russia's top human rights official, Vladimir Lukin, who has called for a probe.

Lukin, who attended demo as an observer, said: "The heads of the interior ministry should carry out a thorough investigation of what happened," and called the police actions "rough" and "disproportionate."

© 2010 AFP

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